Saying It Loud
Richard J. Alley
When I was a kid in school, I recall taking field trips to Chucalissa Indian Village, where the high point of the visit was buying an authentic Indian arrowhead in the gift shop. We also went to the Pink Palace, when it was actually in the house, to see the shrunken heads. And, of course, there was the zoo when all it boasted was a fetid concrete box housing the lions, just a short walk from an island of monkeys.
Today, I chaperoned Calvin’s class at the Rock 'n Soul Museum in the FedEx Forum. We walked there, his school being only a few blocks from this venue, and along the way there were impromptu history lessons given by Dr. Max on the Robert Churches, W.C. Handy and the history of Beale Street.
The museum tour begins with a 15-minute film on the evolution of blues to soul and rock-n-roll and it was great to see the kids' heads, from my vantage point in the back of the theater, bobbing and dancing along with Carl Perkins, Sam and Dave and Elvis. At certain points, too, they broke out and sang along on "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Respect." The tour was self-guided, each child and adult wandering around with headphones and an MP3 player that allowed its user to punch in a three-digit number to hear a narrator discussing a particular display or, most often, to listen to song lists on any number of juke boxes set up throughout the museum. The kids danced and strutted to everyone from Furry Lewis to Al Green, and it was great to hear them singing, with no thought as to their volume, along with "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)," "That's All Right (Mama)" and "Walk The Line."
Music, and the history of Memphis music in particular, is a great catalyst for the discussion of civil rights, its history, and the proper way one human should treat another. The Rock 'n Soul Museum devotes much time in the introductory film to this cause and there is a large display on nothing but the Civil Rights Movement. But as I watched these black and white children, all of whom were born at the turn of this century, dance and sing together while laughing and helping each other with the given assignment, it occurred to me that all of the strife and tension and heartache of the last century is mostly lost on them. And that's a good thing, because it left their hearts and minds wide open to the music in their ears.